Kelly’s creative background was on the back burner while she worked in customer support, until she discovered the fun of designing websites. So she decided to pursue a career in user experience (UX) design! Kelly chose to learn with Springboard’s online, self-paced UX Design Career Track and continue working while studying. Kelly tells us how well her Springboard mentor’s background aligns with her own goals, how she balances her job with studying 20-25 hours per week, and what sort of role she hopes to land when she graduates!
Tell me about your background and how it led you to studying UX design at Springboard?
As a kid, I was always very creative and liked to draw. When I went to college, I decided not to pursue the arts and I majored in marketing and advertising instead. I was excited about the opportunity at the time, but after college I ended up in customer support and shifted my focus away from marketing. I knew I didn’t want to do it anymore but I was also unsure of what I wanted as a career.
Two years ago, I took an online, 10-week HTML and CSS course with General Assembly which gave me a chance to try design and coding. I loved being able to design websites, I thought it was a lot of fun. I became friends with a couple of UX designers at my company and eventually decided to pursue a career in UX. I considered General Assembly’s full-time, 10-week UX course at their campus in Atlanta, however, I didn’t want to quit my job and they had a higher price point than I was comfortable considering without working. I started exploring other options that would allow me to work at the same time – that led me to Springboard. My company allowed me to reduce my work to 30 hours per week so I could dedicate time to learning UX. I was really fortunate that they were able to work with and invest in me to help me achieve my career goals.
Were you considering any other bootcamps?
I considered a couple other online bootcamps. I did some research and looked at pricing, but I wanted to do an online career track course where I could still work simultaneously. Springboard had so many good benefits so I dove right in.
The price was another deciding factor. Springboard is partnered with a company that gives out $500 scholarships to women who are pursuing a technical career, so I was able to get that. I got a lower overall price with all the same benefits as an in-person bootcamp. They also have a job guarantee – if you aren’t able to land a job within six months of graduating (with their assistance), you’ll get a full refund for the course.
What was the Springboard application and interview process like?
During the application process, they asked about my previous experience to gauge whether I’d be a good fit for the program. Even though my background wasn’t in design or coding, I was able to talk with a representative about my marketing education, my HTML and CSS experience, and everything that had led me to apply to Springboard. So even if you feel like you don’t have the right background, you can still talk to someone and give them a better understanding of your motivation to take the course.
Once the application is accepted, they give you a problem-solving homework assignment which is less about website design and more about showcasing your thought process. You have to improve the functionality of a modern day object and brainstorm a better solution to something we carry around every day. Your response determines whether you’re accepted into the course – it’s a way for them to see your overall creativity and brainstorming skills and whether you’re able to problem solve and suggest functionality improvements, which is a central component to UX design.
What is Springboard’s online learning experience like?
The course material is all online; they have several different units and each unit touches upon certain subjects in the UX realm. You start with basic subjects and end with a capstone project that puts your skills into practice. Along the way, you’re learning about components of UX workflows and project timelines, and you learn how points of primary or secondary research can be applied to your design for your capstone project. The course goes into every step of the project, and you get helpful industry articles on a research or UX design method as well as walk-through videos and content. Each of the 25 units over the six-month period has at least one project that lets you apply the ideas you’ve learned and figure things out on your own. My first mini project was to go out and observe people using a specific item. Those mini projects help you understand an idea or component of UX, then you’re able to discuss it with your mentor, and apply it to the larger project for the course.
I’ve loved the course so far – it’s been a really great experience and I’m glad I chose Springboard.
How do you interact with instructors or mentors for the UX design course?
The Springboard instructors are in the course Slack community and can easily jump in on questions or chime into conversations. There are a handful of mentors you can schedule a call with at any time of the week and one is your specific mentor. I was assigned to my mentor based on my specific skills and background and I have a weekly call with her to touch base on how I’m doing. She’s been in the UX field for a while and talking about her experience is really helpful. She’s also great at checking her email and answers pretty quickly, and we always have the option to talk to others over Slack if we get stuck and need to ask a question.
How does your mentor’s background align with your interests and goals?
I want to get into UX design and improve my research and interviewing skills. She has a doctorate of psychology and went through the same explorative options when she went into UX. After she got her doctorate degree, she became curious about UX and the technical fields, so she also did courses in HTML and CSS and then in Photoshop and Illustrator, which led her to UX – similar to my path. Psychology aligns well with the research element so she understands the research side which I’m interested in learning. I want to know how to improve how I conduct interviews with people, improve my research skills, and apply those findings to design. I also want to get into brainstorming and designing product solutions for the project based on the research. I felt like Springboard did a great job of matching me with someone whose experience and interests closely mirrored my own.
Who are the other UX students learning alongside you and what are their backgrounds?
My cohort started at 12 to 14 students and others have jumped in since then from new monthly groups. We all use Slack to communicate, bounce ideas off of each other, and get advice. We can post ideas in Slack to get others’ opinions, and if we have questions we can crowdsource answers.
It’s a pretty diverse group – a good split of females and males, and students are scattered around the US. Four of us are from Georgia, others are in New York, Arizona, California, and Florida. There was also guy from the Philippines and a woman from Colombia. I’m planning to meet up with a few women from Georgia – one woman comes from a graphic design background and another is a school teacher looking to change her career. Others came from design, engineering, and product management, but some are coming from completely unrelated backgrounds wanting to make a career change.
How do you balance a part-time bootcamp while working and how do you stay focused?
Since I work 30 hours per week, I spend about 20 hours per week on the UX Design Career Track to stay on the six-month schedule. They don’t have a hard cutoff – you can still do courses and ask questions after six months – but by doing 20 to 25 hours per week, I’m able to get through things and finish the course in a more timely manner. I try to complete at least four hours a day after work so I don’t have to do it on the weekends. I’m holding myself to the six-month timeline because I want to finish soon so I can start pursuing a UX career.
If I start feeling like I’m behind, my mentor will reassure me, but it’s mostly my willpower pushing me. I’m motivated by the career change and the opportunities ahead. I’m so excited to make this change and do something different. Sitting at home can get a little distracting, so I’ll try to sit at a desk or table, away from anything exciting and make sure I’m focused. Sometimes I’ll break my time up and do some of the material, eat dinner, and then come back to it so I’m not burning myself out.
What’s your favorite UX design project you’ve worked on so far?
We’ve done a bunch of little mini projects, but I’ve enjoyed the overall capstone project since you’re able to choose a project to work on or a problem to solve. I’m looking at making a more intuitive recipe app. I found when people go home, they’re not sure what they want to eat at dinner that night, or they’re not sure how to use what they currently have in their pantry and items go to waste. I want to solve that problem and make people excited to cook. I have really enjoyed learning and understanding other people’s experiences, as well as starting to design and sketch out ideas for the app. It’s a lot of fun to work on.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far in taking the online design bootcamp?
The biggest challenge has been setting aside time to work on the projects. It’s important not to load up your schedule so that you still have time to work on your projects and don’t get too overwhelmed. But I haven’t had too many challenges in the course itself and my mentor can explain things in an easy and understandable manner. When I ask questions, she’s able to say things like, “well, here’s another way to look at it,” or she helps me better understand it and sort through things.
How will Springboard prepare you for the job search after graduation?
We have a few units that are more career-focused and we have a career advisor who I’ve already spoken with a few times. They help you promote yourself on LinkedIn, provide tips on attending networking events and meetups, and discuss how they went. Right now, the units are about expanding your network, exploring your community, and meeting new people who can talk about their role in UX. There’s another meetup coming up and my homework assignment is to schedule some follow-up informational interviews so I can learn and make some connections. There is some job coaching in the pipeline once you build a portfolio and start interviewing for jobs, but for now I’m in the networking phase.
What kinds of UX jobs will you be looking for and what types of companies are you interested in?
I don’t have a specific industry in mind right now. I’ve been looking at startup companies where the UX designer is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, so I would be able to build out my portfolio and understand projects with several different ideas going on at once. I also wouldn’t mind a more corporate environment where I’d be on the design team that brainstorms product solutions from provided research. Also, if the opportunity arises at my current company, I’d be happy to move into a UX position – I’ve spoken with the Head of Product on best practices and his suggestions for the field. I’m definitely open to different opportunities.
What advice do you have for others going through an online UX bootcamp?
Research what you’re getting into and ensure you’re able to set aside time to do it, especially if you’re working full time. Be sure you’re ready for the commitment, but don’t be stressed about choosing a big name over a smaller school. The portfolio and what you’re able to produce is what matters. I didn’t need to go into a lot of debt, and I was still able to work and go to Springboard at the same time. I’m really glad I made the choice to go to Springboard – you can get the same excellent training at an online course as long as you put the work into it.